Europe marks the new year with unique celebrations and traditions
The Russians have a saying that goes something along the lines of “As you see the new year in, so shall the one that follows go.”
We don’t know about that, but if you have time off around the holiday, are staying in Europe and wondering what to do with yourself, here are a few suggestions for both New Year’s Eve and the days surrounding it, organized according to what you may be pining for.
SnowReports trickling back from skiers who’ve ventured to the Alps this winter indicate that this hasn’t been much of a season for snow. So where should you go for the surest bets?
If you don’t mind waiting until the last minute, keep checking the Powder Hound ski page in this section for the National Ski Patrol’s Europe snow conditions report by country and resort. Based on the best available information at press time, Cervinia, Italy, and Saas Fee and Verbier, Switzerland, might be some of the better places to consider.
In the sad event that the skiing is less than sublime, make sure your New Year’s Eve will somewhat compensate. At www.myswitzerland.com, Switzerland Tourism gives you the scoop on what cities and areas have special events in store for visitors. We like the sound of “Zurich’s New Year’s Magic,” with its fireworks display over the lake and light installations gracing its bridges.
TraditionsIf you’re up for something really different, head for the back country of Appenzellerland, Switzerland, to cast your eyes upon the Silvesterklausen (Sylvester Clauses), three types of St. Nicholas figures — pretty, ugly or the “woodland and nature” types — essential to the ringing in of the New Year in these parts. See them in the communes of Urnäsch, Schönengrund, Schwellbrunn, Waldstatt, Herisau, Hundwil, Stein and Teufen. For details, go to www.appenzell.ch and click on “Culture & customs,” then “Silvesterklausen.”
You could head to the lovely hill town of Orvieto, Italy, worth a stop in its own right, and catch Umbria Jazz Winter. Now in its 14th year, the festival takes place through Jan. 1 and will feature a street parade and all kinds of jazz, from funk and blues to gospel and R&B. The concerts are largely held in restaurants and private halls, so if you’re all about the music, book early. Web site: www.umbriajazz.com.
WarmthSince it’s part of Spain, we’re going to consider Tenerife, Canary Islands, fair game for this survey. Here, you’ve got a good shot at encountering days warm enough for sunbathing, perhaps even for swimming, in addition to thriving local traditions. According to the Web site www.secret-tenerife.com, you can find New Year’s Eve street parties in almost any sizable town. Suggested venues include the Plaza de España in Santa Cruz or the church square in Los Cristianos. For good luck, be sure to be clad in new attire. Fireworks, bands and discos will complete the atmosphere.
For an even more authentic experience, stay an additional week and celebrate Los Reyes Magos, or Three Kings Day, on Jan. 6 and the previous evening. Anticipate parades, costumed revelers and a sleepless evening. Although it’s the day for children to receive their long-awaited presents, really it’s an all-ages affair.
ColdFor a cool start to 2007, how about visiting an ice hotel? From an idea that took root 17 years ago north of the Artic Circle in Sweden, there are now a handful of such establishments functioning in Europe. Ice hotel locations include the original establishment in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, also home to the Absolut Icebar, which offers extras, such as dog sledding and moose safaris. Go to www.icehotel.com or the Snow Village in Lapland, Finland, www.snowvillage.fi. Similar facilities open later in the year.
If you’re not up to sleeping on a bed of ice overnight, most of these places welcome day visitors as well. And if you just want to pop into an Absolut Icebar for a drink, you can do so in London, Milan or Stockholm.
Family funIf your kids can’t get enough of Germany’s Europa Park in the summer, take them to the city of Rust for the park’s big winter fest. From now through Jan. 7, you’ll find “Magical Winter Weeks.” Some of the fun stuff to do includes a ski-bob ride, snow tubing, a heated winter world playground, children’s ski school, ice skating rink, Christmas market and numerous shows. Three hotels will be open during the winter, although they are no longer taking bookings for New Year’s Eve.
If a circus sounds up your alley, head to The Netherlands for Rotterdam’s Ahoy to catch the Kerstcircus, which runs to Jan. 1. It dishes up the usual circus fare of clowns, acrobats, jugglers and trained animal acts, and should be fun for all ages. Web site: www.ahoy.nl.
CrowdsIf the gathering of the masses sounds up your alley, check out Berlin’s Open End. This annual outdoor party takes place along a 2-kilometer stretch of the Strasse des 17. Juni, between the Brandenburg Gate and the Siegessäule, and its three stages, eight video screens and eight party tents typically host more than a million visitors. Notables on stage this year will include Sugarbabes, Scissor Sisters and Hot Chocolate, plus many other performers and disc jockeys. For more, see www.silvester-berlin.de.
Cheap sleepsNew Year’s Eve is definitely not the time of year to search for hotel deals, since a great many of them will make special “arrangements” for the evening and charge you extra for the privilege of taking part. If you’re dead set on meeting the new year outside your own abode but don’t have a fortune at your disposal, try the youth hostel networks of Hessen or Rhineland-Palatinate (www.djh-hessen.de or www.jugendherberge.de/lvb/rheinland/jugendherbergen/silvester.htm).
Although many facilities say they are sold out for New Year’s Eve, a handful had rooms available as of this writing. The “Freie Plätze-Online” option shows you which facilities have space available, while the “Silvester-Angebote” button shows who’s making special efforts around the holiday with buffets, toasts and family activities. “Ausgebucht” means you’re out of luck.
But there’s always next year.